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The US Military Wants to Make Sure It Can Destroy Hypersonic Missiles

Orbital Hypersonic Missile
Image: Creative Commons.

The U.S. Military is Going Big on a Hypersonic Missile Interceptor: The Missile Defense Agency wants a system expressly designed to counter hypersonic threats from North Korea, China, and Russia.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Department of Defense office responsible for defending the nation from ballistic missile threats, awarded a contract to three of the United States’ defense industry heavyweights to develop a hypersonic missile interceptor.

The MDA awarded an Other Transactional (OT) Agreements to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Missiles and Defense “to complete an accelerated concept design of the Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) for MDA’s regional hypersonic missile defense program.”

“We are pleased to have these contractors working with us to develop design concepts for the GPI,” Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, MDA’s Sea-based Weapon Systems program executive, explained.

“Multiple awards allow us to execute a risk reduction phase to explore industry concepts and maximize the benefits of a competitive environment to demonstrate the most effective and reliable Glide Phase Interceptor for regional hypersonic defense, as soon as possible.”

The award stipulates that any Gide Phase Interceptors must be compatible with the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, explaining that “interceptors will be fired from Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense destroyers using the standard Vertical Launch System (VLS) and will also integrate with the modified Baseline 9 Aegis Weapon System to detect, track, control, and engage hypersonic threats in the glide phase of the missile’s flight.”

Hypersonic Missile Defense: Location, Location, Location

Without naming a specific country, the Missile Defense Agency outlined the Glide Phase Interceptor’s intended application, explaining that “the GPI concept fits into the MDA’s missile defense architecture to provide the warfighter and its allies with reliable layered defense against regional hypersonic missile threats from rogue-nations.”

The somewhat ambiguous rogue-nations designation would most obviously apply to North Korea and Iran, though the latter country is not publicly known to possess hypersonic missiles.

On the other hand, North Korea is thought to be pursuing a viable hypersonic weapon, joining China, Russia, and the United States.

Irrespective of the rouge-nation designation, an interceptor capable of reliably engaging hypersonic targets would be a significant American missile defense upgrade, as the majority of the United States’ missile defense hardware and infrastructure are optimized for supersonic — but not hypersonic — threats.

US Hypersonic Missile Defense: What’s Next?

The engineering challenges are substantial. In a statement, Raytheon highlighted the unique nature of the interceptor, explaining that the “GPI’s speed, ability to withstand extreme heat, and maneuverability will make it the first missile designed to engage this advanced threat.” Designing an interceptor that can match the speed of Mach 5+ missiles and track with high maneuverability is no small feat. In today’s era of increased competition, it is, however, seen by the MDA as necessary.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. MaxAmoeba

    November 23, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Maybe, just maybe, if we had kept this technology secret we wouldn’t be needing to defend ourselves from this…right Hillary?

  2. Chris Cha

    November 23, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    “It’s like jumping from a moving car, off a bridge and into a shot glass.”

    I sure hope they’re ramping up those directed energy defenses, because it’s going to be damn difficult to get a kinetic or even explosive impact at that speed. Even directed energy will be extremely difficult.

  3. PressToDigitate

    November 24, 2021 at 3:00 am

    This doesn’t ring true. The early ’70s Sprint Interceptor, and, before that, HIBEX in the early 1960s, were capable of Mach 10+, and carried nuclear warheads. It is not plausible that the USAF has to develop the GPI “from scratch” against “huge technical hurdles”. Something else is being camouflaged here. Probably the development of Anti-UFO (“UAP”) weapons by the U.S., China and Russia, and their posturing against each other in the hypersonic realm is just for public consumption.

  4. Alex

    December 15, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    If kept secret? The secret is what is not there and where are you lagging behind? Bravo. You can not believe in reality and watch fantastic films further.

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